Gail Wellock joins us at The Corner today for a chat about the award-winning program she spearheaded at the Chantilly Regional Branch of Fairfax County Public Libraries. “Kaleidoscope Storytime: Adaptive Programming for Children on the Autism Spectrum,” is a monthly storytime activity adapted for children on the autism spectrum and/or children with other developmental challenges.
One parent said, “We are regulars…The teacher even has a nameplate for him. My son is 23 months old but requires a walker for walking and is sensory sensitive. The other library activities are too overwhelming for him and he is miserable…This is the only activity we've found, paid or free, that works for him with his physical limitations, interest in age appropriate activities and sensitivities.”
ES: Gail, welcome to The Corner! You have founded such a beautiful program at the library – how did you come up with its unique and evocative name?
GW: While planning and researching sensory-enhanced storytimes I discovered the book The Kaleidoscope Kid by Elaine Marie Larson. I’m going to quote Larson’s book description, because I think it answers your question perfectly! “The Kaleidoscope Kid is written for children with Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autism to remind them of their many special gifts. Children on the autism spectrum possess a kaleidoscope of intellectual strengths and unique personality traits. Their outlook and creative ways are as variable and colorful as the view through a kaleidoscope.”
ES: How true indeed – some of the moments I treasure most in my teaching career have been with special ed children who brought a unique view to the most ordinary of circumstances. Like the time I came back to work still hoarse from being sick, and one of my autistic students told me, “Don’t worry Ms. Sozzi, I’ll go to the end of the rainbow to get your voice back.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
For our readers out there who are interested in creating a program like yours at their library or school – or even parents who are just looking for tips to create a more successful storytime session at home – what can you tell them about a typical Kaleidoscope session?
GW: Oh that would be wonderful! There is such a need for more programs like Kaleidoscope.
First, a little about the support systems that help ensure a smooth storytime which can help anyone, be it an official program or simply storytime at home:
• Repetition and Rhyme are helpful in keeping our participants engaged and joyful…and also important to early literacy development!
• Children with autism are challenged by transitions and unexpected surprises. Therefore, we keep the same format for each program. This offers participants a space where they feel welcomed, safe, and comfortable. It also provides a way for parents to talk to the child about what to expect when they come to storytime.
• Based on what I just said, I want to point out it’s so important to adapt to the child…be prepared to go with the flow! Things may not happen as you expect.
• Some children need something to hold in their hands. They can often be calmed by having extra sensory experiences through touch and feel. Include special items, such as koosh sensory balls, stuffed animals, small bean bags, and other stimulating objects they can hold while you are reading the book. By incorporating different sensory toys and experiences the child is engaged and re-engaged during the reading time.
• Use a variety of movements and sounds. Sing songs that include waving, clapping, stomping and swaying. We often “sing” books!
• The children can talk, sing, sit, stand, walk and move freely during the storytime activities. This reassuring environment gives the children a sense of security and a desire or willingness to return.
• The “agenda” for each storytime is always posted as a visual schedule on a large bulletin board in the storytime circle. Children with autism often need a picture to go along with a word.
• As we move between books and activities, the visual schedule is referred to and/or pointed to.
• We also ask and answer questions as a group. For example, in the book Pete the Cat, he steps in a pile of blueberries. So we ask, “What color are his shoes now?” and we all answer “Blue.” And so on. Group involvement keeps us engaged and connected as a whole.
A little now about the actual content and sequence:
• We plan for favorite books and a few new books each time.
• We start with Hello Songs
• Welcome and Visual Schedule
• Our Name Song – each child is sung his/her name and a name plate is placed in front of him/her
• We actually always start with the same book, a favorite of the kids: Brown Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin which we usually sing as a group
• Once they’ve settled in to the comfort of a favorite book, we introduce a new book
• Finger Play or Nursery Rhyme with boardbook for each child OR a movement activity
• The last book is always a Pete the Cat book – again, beginning and ending each session with the comfort of something familiar. One favorite is Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin.
We have a large stuffed Pete the Cat that is brought around to each child for a hug or a “high-five” and “thanks for coming to storytime today”
• Good-Bye Songs
• Bubbles and Song: we always finish by blowing bubbles for each child & a ‘good-bye bubble song,” which always delights them
ES: Wow! Hopefully everyone – parent, teacher, librarian, and authors! – has walked away with a few new ideas on how to make storytime more accessible for these children. And perhaps someone out there will be inspired to create another version of Kaleidoscope at their library or school!
Any parting thoughts you’d like to share with us?
GW: Yes. The beauty of Kaleidoscope Storytime is that it serves the needs of the children and the parents. A successful program like this becomes a place for parents to connect with other parents, to seek and exchange information on other community resources. Raising a child with special needs can sometimes be an isolating experience for families. Our program offers a time for them to visit the library and socialize.
Our Kaleidoscope parents and caregivers are appreciative of the safe and welcoming environment that our program provides and the developmental growth that it helps to encourage.
ES: They are lucky to have you and the entire children’s section team at Chantilly Library – you all have designed an amazing set of children’s programs! Thank you for stopping by The Corner, Gail!
To find upcoming events at Chantilly Regional Library, click here.